The summer before my senior year at College of Charleston, I received a Critical Language Scholarship to continue my Hindi studies in Jaipur, India. I had taken as many Hindi courses with Mrs. Leena Karambelkar as the College offered, and I was thrilled at the chance to further my language skills on the ground in India. The classes and tutoring through the program were hugely beneficial, but one of the most important aspects of my two months in India was finding places where tourists hadn’t left their mark and where I felt I could truly use Hindi. One Sunday, I went with a friend into the old walled city of Jaipur onto side streets where the bazaars were bursting with people selling steel wool, packs of underwear, cellophane-wrapped bangles, and other everyday wares you can’t find in the touristy side of town. My friend and I attracted more stares than normal, but it was worth it to feel like a true traveler. We explored, bargaining with the merchants in Hindi along the way. One young boy selling bangles even forgot to give us the foreigner price, the standard 100 rupees for everything. The surge and pull of the crowd was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, a blend of Hindi and English washing over me and exhausting me more than even the oppressive heat could. I loved it! In my two months in India, it was possibly the most honest picture of the culture and the best opportunity to test my classroom Hindi.
Somewhat unexpectedly, I still use Hindi in my new job in Louisville, KY, at the Americana Community Center where I am the Community Liaison VISTA. Americana Community Center works primarily with the large immigrant and refugee population in Louisville, offering free programs specifically designed to meet the community’s needs. As part of the volunteer orientation I regularly lead, I teach a quick Hindi lesson to demonstrate what it’s like for people to expect you to understand a language that is not your own. It always reminds me of my time in India, and I’ve noticed that the orientation can be a powerful lesson in empathy for some of our younger volunteers.